Recent Tendencies in Ethics eBook

William Ritchie Sorley
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 89 pages of information about Recent Tendencies in Ethics.

In his own life, so far as it is a moral life, each individual seeks system or unity.  And this unity is realised on three different levels—­as we may call them—­which may be distinguished for clearness’ sake, though it is not possible actually to separate them.  On each level morality is realised through system, and system is brought about by the rule of the morally higher and the submission of the morally lower:  in this goodness lies, in the opposite evil.  If we isolate the individual and consider him apart, he may be said to attain goodness by the due ordering and control of his sensuous and passional nature by rational or spiritual ends.  The result may be described, negatively, as the suppression of sensualism.  But the positive description remains imperfect until we can say what the rational or spiritual principle is which is to weld all man’s ’particular impulses’ into an organic whole.

And this cannot be done so long as we contemplate the mere individual in isolation.  We cannot remain at the level of bare individuality.  Personality itself is not a merely individual product:  neither the knowledge nor the activity of the individual can be explained without reference to his position as a member of society; his inheritance is a social inheritance.  Nor can the individual establish a claim to deal with his own personality as a merely individual end.  It is a factor in social life; and, in systematising his own life, he must have regard to the social factor.  In this respect he attains goodness only when his individual life seeks a unity higher than that of his own individuality, and not centred in his selfish interests.  From this point of view we may say, again negatively, that goodness consists in the suppression of selfishness.  But once again there is a difficulty about the positive description.  Many moralists, undoubtedly, are content to rest with the social aspect:  to regard the ‘health’ or ‘vitality’ of society as the final expression of morality.  But a life which is simply absorbed by society cannot be said to be a perfect unity.  Society itself is a process; and its changes are determined in large measure by the moral ideals of its members.  For its unity we must look to an end—­an ideal—­of which its actual forms can offer indications only.  Both man and society are factors in a universal order; and their perfection cannot be independent of the purpose of this order.  When the consciousness of it fills man’s life, morality is merged in religion.


Absolute, the, 101 ff.
  as good, 105.
  as not good, 104. 
Altruism, 15 ff., 74 f., 118. 
Appearance, 101 ff. 
Approbation, 111 ff. 
Aristotle, 87. 
Artificial selection, 61 ff. 
Austen, Jane, 4 n.

Benevolence, 16. 
Bentham, J., 4 n. 
Bradley, F.H., 88, 100 ff. 
Browning, R., 31.

Characteristics of goodness, 113.
  reality, 103. 
Competition between groups, 52 f., 58, 74, 79.
  ideas, 53 ff.
  individuals, 52, 74, 79. 
Content of morality, agreement as to, 7. 
Christian morality, 7, 18, 20. 
Cosmic process and moral order, 46 ff.

Project Gutenberg
Recent Tendencies in Ethics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook